If there is a common visual association with autism which is likely to provoke a reaction from me, it is being seen as an isolated jigsaw piece. This is, perhaps, as demeaning as the ableist descriptions which many of us in the UK are more informed to avoid such terms. While organisations, both past and present, might see no problem in the presentation of their work with autistic people and their families/carers in this way, it has much bigger implications on what the rest of society feel about the condition. As one example of an invisible condition, or disability, autism still has plenty of ambiguities about its nature and origins, where the jigsaw imagery only serves to help perpetuate the belief we are a mystery which cannot fit as neurotypicals (or non-autistic people) would like; in other words, a gateway to suggest that ‘cures’ for autism are possible, given enough time and resource.
At this year’s Autism Europe Congress which I attended, a debate on ‘cure vs. acceptance’ was a battle that raged on. Because of its perceived rigidity in habits, poor social awareness and sensory processing problems, even those who are on the spectrum thought what they had to be ‘debilitating’ and wished for a cure to end what that individual on this topic thought to be their suffering. People’s experiences of autism vary, which is why we call it a spectrum, and there will be those who are always going to need constant support throughout their lives, for people like myself with a capacity for independence, we only become too aware of what our limitations are as we grow older and that the world is not as black and white as we once viewed it. In many ways, for both autistics and wider society, we face similar dilemmas as that of the LGBT community and ‘coming out’ to accept who we are can be no easy task when we seek an ordinary life as others have. There’s even a dedicated Autistic Pride Day on 18th June each year to encourage the embracing of neurodiversity!
With a 700,000 strong population of autistic people in the UK, there are bound to be people around us who appear no different to the naked eye who feel the intense anxiety of being surrounded by others, which can result in a severe reaction when not prevented earlier. Each of us has a unique personality and set of traits to ensure that no prescription of what autism is like is ever proved right, but even I get the occasional assumption of a genius level IQ and a love of maths and science (I studied English at university). However, we still face many modern obstacles, not least in education, where 4 in 10 autistic children are excluded from school for example and in mental health, 70% of us will qualify for at least one condition in our lifetime. These two examples alone need much wider inspection to fully understand the context behind the reasons why.
For my part, I have learned to accept my own identity and the eccentricities which come with that. It is society’s problem which feels the need to label something so different from the norm of how people are slotted (returning to the jigsaw metaphor). How they adapt to our needs and work with the talents autism brings is one area which still needs a bit of fine tuning.
This post was guest written by Jack Welch.
Jack is a self-advocate who is on the autistic spectrum. An active supporter of charities, he is a Youth Patron of Ambitious about Autism, an advisor for Mencap and has been one of the first members of the Scope for Change Programme. He enjoys reading, current affairs and tweeting! He lives in Weymouth, Dorset.
You can follow him on twitter at @MrJW18